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The sixth sense: Do women really have 'gaydar'?

Ladies, next time your "gaydar" goes off, trust it - especially if you're ovulating, according to a new study.

Recent research, led by University of Toronto professor Nicholas Rule, suggests that women can determine a man's sexuality just by examining his face. And this supposed superpower gets stronger the more fertile the woman.

Prof. Rule's experiment went like this:

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Test No. 1: Forty straight female undergrads were asked to look at 80 headshots of young men and judge them gay or straight. Half of the photos were of gay men, but Prof. Rule insists that all 80 were equally stoic and attractive. They also had to inform the researchers of when their last period was.

Test No. 2: Thirty-four straight female undergrads were asked to judge the sexuality of 200 headshots of women. (It's odd that these women only judged 80 men v. 200 women of undefined attractiveness.)

Test No. 3: A group of the subject women were "primed" with romantic thoughts before judging the sexuality of the male headshots again. The others were not primed but still asked to judge.

Prof. Rule and his team concluded that the women who were closer to ovulation were more accurate in guessing sexuality than their non-ovulating colleagues. And apparently, these straight women were not very good at identifying lesbians from the female headshots, regardless of whether they were ovulating or not.

Ultimately, Prof. Rule concludes that there is an evolutionary principle at work here: "Increased sexual interest brought about by the increased likelihood of conception near ovulation may therefore influence women's sensitivity to male sexual orientation."

Translation: Ovulating women are more likely to get pregnant, and as such, they want to make sure that if they're trying to have sex with a man, that that man is an eligible candidate. And so their gaydar is finer.

But what has been left out in this discussion is any social context. There is no mention of how the women made their judgments; no one raises the point that maybe women are such good judges of sexuality because of good old-fashioned stereotypes.

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Groomed eyebrows? Must be gay. Stubble and messy hair? Straight! There is no discussion of the fact that, like gender, sexuality is performed. People exude in the way they dress, their grooming techniques and their body language and facial expressions.

This, however, is not the first such experiment done by Prof. Rule. In a 2008 study, he presented evidence that a woman only needs to see a man's face for 50 milliseconds before her feminine intuition kicks in. So according to these studies, a woman may know a man is gay before even he does - and in one-third of the time it takes for her to blink.

Prof. Rule's work is not the only new study suggesting that women are judgmental because of their reproductive cycle. A study done by Michigan State University researchers, and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, concludes that women's racist tendencies fluctuate depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle.

What's next? Raging ovaries cause women to be more anti-Semitic at certain times of the month? Only time, and research grants, will tell.

What do you think of these studies? Are they providing women with a biological excuse for being prejudicial?

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About the Author

Madeleine White is an online editor and reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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